Botulism is a very serious muscle-paralyzing disease caused by a toxin made by a spore-forming bacterium called Clostridium botulinum.

Possible symptoms of Botulism

Symptoms can begin within six hours to 10 days (usually within 18 to 36 hours) of exposure and include:

  • Double vision
  • Blurred vision
  • Drooping eyelids
  • Slurred speech
  • Difficulty swallowing, dry mouth
  • Muscle weakness that descends through the body

How can Botulism be spread?

Botulism can affect any age group. It is not spread from person to person, but people can become infected by:

  • Eating or drinking something that has been contaminated with the toxin.
  • Having a wound become infected with C. botulinum that produces the toxin.
  • Infants can get botulism by eating an amount of spores from the bacterium that is usually not harmful to adults.
  • Inhaling the toxin if it has been released into the air.

How to treat Botulism

There is no vaccine available to prevent botulism, and there is no cure for the disease.

  • There is an antitoxin available. When given to a patient in the early stages of the disease, the antitoxin can reduce the severity of symptoms.
  • Most people recover from botulism, but it can take months of supportive care.

How can Botulism be prevented?

  • Botulism is not known to be spread from person to person; however, because most cases are caused by food that has been improperly canned or preserved, take care when canning foods.
  • Throw food away if you suspect it is spoiled.
  • Wash all wounds with soap and warm water.
  • To prevent infant botulism, do not give honey to children under age 12 months.

More information about botulism, its cause, symptoms, treatment and prevention is available from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.